Friday, October 12, 2012

Elizabeth Wentworth Warner's c.1760-1770s Brocade Shoes

The owner of these pink and green brocade shoes (c. 1760, with later alterations) was most likely Elizabeth Wentworth Warner (July 30, 1739-August 1793/November 1794, posted in two New Hampshire papers, the Oracle and the Gazette). 

Despite somewhat careless alterations at some point in their history, they have a contemporary appeal with a cheery palette. One can easily imagine wearing them today.  Elizabeth was the daughter of Hunking Wentworth, she married Captain Samuel Warner (August 21, 1737- September 10, 1771; Jonathan Warner's brother) on October 8, 1761.  She was twenty two and Captain Warner was twenty four; he died a decade later when she was thirty two. The mother of Elizabeth Warner Sherburne, Elizabeth Wentworth Warner died at 54/55 years of age.

Without a fuller biographical account, it is difficult to “read” Elizabeth’s shoes. They were clearly stylish when new with a pointed toe and tongue, richly patterned brocade silk of a foliate pattern of predominate pink, green and earth tones, and a heel of about 1.5 to 2 inches in height. They would have required a buckle for closure.

At some point, most likely during Elizabeth’s life given the nature of the alterations, the original heel was apparently cut down transforming it into a flat or a slipper.  The sole appears original, has no rand, and is of a substantial leather.  However, the inner sole (or lining) is of a heavy leather that does not appear to fit the interior of the shoe well.  The existing heel seems to be covered (somewhat sloppily) with a solid portion of the brocaded silk that covers the rest of the shoe. Women frequently altered their shoes to keep up with the trends of the day, so the transformation of a heeled shoe into a flat would make sense given the transition into the Neoclassical style, which embraced a low slipper-type shoe. 

If one examines the shoes from the back, however, it is apparent that the owner had a distinctive gait which caused specific wear and tear on the shoes. Perhaps the shoes were cut down for comfort by a local cobbler and then restitched; perhaps Elizabeth had an ailment which caused her overpronation. 

At this time, the records are silent.

The author thanks Tara Vose and Carolyn Roy, of the Warner House Board and Curatorial Committee 
For further information, see Joyce G. Volk, ed. The Warner House: A Rich and Colorful History, 2006.

Images courtesy of The Warner House
Accession Number 1949 2a and 2 b.

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